SHOULD the England football team fail to secure international glory at the Euro 2016 tournament in France, help is at hand in the form of a prayer posted on the Church of England website which asks for “dignity in defeat”.
Written by the Bishop of Sherwood, the Rt Revd Tony Porter — an Oxford Blue in hockey, and later chaplain to Manchester City Football Club — the prayer thanks God for “the beautiful game”, and urges the players to remember that winning is not everything. It ends by praying for “humility in victory, and dignity in defeat”.
In a statement released with the prayer the day before Euro 2016 began last week, Bishop Porter said that he did not expect England to win the tournament: “Do I want England to win? I would love it. Do I think they will win? Not until we see more English players in the Premier League.
”As Church and sport unite in prayer, I hope the Euros will be a vehicle for unity, fun, and peace.”
England drew their first match on Saturday night, after Russia scored a late equaliser, but clashes broke out after the match, in Marseilles, when Russian hooligans carried out an attack on English fans. Russia has since been handed a suspended disqualification from the tournament, and been fined £119,000.
England went on to win their second match 2-1 against Wales, yesterday, putting the two teams at the top of their group. The England striker Daniel Sturridge, who is a committed Christian, said that he was "grateful to God" for allowing him to score the second and winning goal.
Wales triumphed 2-1 over Slovakia at the weekend, and Northern Ireland were defeated by Poland 1-0; the Republic of Ireland drew their opening game with Sweden 1-1, on Monday.
The Revd Nick Clarke, Chaplain of St Peter’s, Chantilly, which is close to the England training camp in France, recently attended a training session with the squad, and had higher expectations than Bishop Porter.
”I am praying that they play with no fear,” he said. “If they are all tightened up and play with fear, they won’t have that creativity, that spark of flair, that imagination. I’ll be praying that they enjoy the moment, on and off the pitch. Play with exuberance and they will surprise the rest of the tournament, I’m sure.”
St Andrew’s, Leyland, in Lancashire, capitalised on the opening match between England and Russia by inviting the whole parish to watch the game inside the church, after running its own six-a-side tournament.
Speaking before England played, an assistant minister at St Andrew’s, Dave Lewis, had not given up on England’s chances. “Leicester have just won the Premier League so anything could happen.”
For those unmoved by the festival of football in France, the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) has put together a different Continental competition — the European Championships of Religious Freedom.
Using data from a global religious survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre, the CCJ assigned every nation that has qualified for the football championships a figure for how free its citizens were to practise their faith. The winner of this imagined contest was Portugal, beating Albania in the final, with the Czech Republic and Ireland the other two nations to make the semi-finals. The UK would be eliminated in the last 16, while France, the hosts of Euro 2016, would go out at the first hurdle in the group stage.
The freedom-of-religion score calculated by the CCJ is an amalgamation of government restrictions on faith — such as banning conversion or limiting preaching — and social hostility to certain religions, such as harassment over religious attire or faith-based terrorism.
The country deemed worst for religious freedom was Russia, with Turkey a close second. The CCJ trustee Zaki Cooper, who compiled the data, cautioned, however, that in general Europe was one of the best places to live as a religious minority.
Speaking to BBC Radio Bristol, Mr Cooper said: “Religious freedom is quite high across most of the countries competing in the tournament. That shouldn’t be a surprise to us, because when you compare us with other parts of the world like Africa and parts of Asia it is pretty clear that you are a lot better off being a person of religion in a European country than in other parts of the world.”